How much of the stimulant do you need in your daily life, and more importantly, when does a welcome boost become a threat to health?
Drink makers and regulators certainly don’t seem to know. A concerning stance when consumers want labels to inform them of precisely what they are eating and drinking more than ever.
In the eternal schoolyard of the beverage world, the growing craze for stimulant products appears to be changing the way we consume caffeine.
With beverage makers at the forefront of a brave new age of energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas and extra strength cappuccinos, the industry must help to encourage responsible caffeine consumption.
While European consensus, like in most over markets, is that there is little danger to heath from a nominal intake of caffeine, there is no ceiling levels on stimulants to suggest when a coffee break or a bit of a jump start may be getting out of hand.
Under current European Commission regulations, the former Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), ruled back in 1999 that with the exception of pregnant women and children, caffeine consumption in 'energy drinks' when replacing other forms of the stimulant is not a 'cause for concern'.
The commission still calls for clear labelling on any beverages containing more than 150mg/l of caffeine to state that there is 'high caffeine content' in the product. This does apply not to beverages clearly labelled as being tea or coffee extracts though, according to the Commission. The US does not even go this far.
So where will it all end in our hunt for a caffeine boost, sought by so many in the pre-lunchtime malaise?
As debate rages around the world over the soft drink-like sale of energy drinks, or the possible dangers of alcoholic beverages with added stimulants, the industry can help allay fears by working to find a solution.
Part of the problem lies in our previous understanding of what a caffeine kick really is.
Some associations, like the industry-led Coffee Science Information Centre, have previously recommended consumption of four to five cups of the beverage a day as a means of controlling coffee intake.
Just like the notion of sticking to four to five cups, the everyday consumer does not really know how much caffeine they are consuming in their daily life.
In our attempts to adapt to a global café culture, a coffee is no longer just a coffee, it is a double-latte or a decaf espresso.
Similarly, with energy drink formulation, the need for product individuality means that moderate caffeine intake is not a simple case of sticking to two cans a day. After all, some products already actively claim to be sufficiently higher in caffeine than their rivals.
Alcohol products now come with a handy warning regarding the units present in a particular beverage. It does not always ensure safe drinking, but it does give people an awareness of what is going down their gullets in relation to a recommended consumption level.
Couldn’t caffeinated products be regulated in a similar manner?
The lack of any sort of formal guidance for responsible caffeine intake is no doubt adding to fears about caffeinated beverages. By giving people more of an insight into how much caffeine a product has, and more importantly how much they should be having, the industry may just alleviate some of its head aches.
Perhaps then its time to step out from the schoolyard boasts and stimulate some real discussion between industry and regulators on how to better label and inform the world’s caffeine cravers.
I know what you’re thinking: I need a coffee, but just how many?
Neil Merrett is a staff reporter for BeverageDaily.com, and has written on a variety of issues for publications in both the UK and France as well as being an avid tea drinker.If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Neil.Merrett 'at' decisionnews.com.